Belfast City Council sexism row/anti-street harassment

This week is anti-street harassment week, a week of action by activists worldwide to draw attention to the problem of street harassment (1). Notice I don’t use the word ”cat-calling”. Too cutesy and toothless, it is seen as mildly naughty but basically harmless, a bit of a laugh. A bit like a Councillor commenting on the pleasure he derives from the sight of the Council’s CEO cycling about the city she basically manages. All in good fun, right?

Certainly that is the reaction from a large part of the media and the general public; can’t you take a joke? And that’s also the crux of the problem; Councillor Craig would undoubtedly claim that he was not being sexist, merely raising a smile. And I don’t doubt that he believes he is right. But the constant commentary women endure on our appearance – not always “positive”, we are often told how unappealing we are, too – accompanies us everywhere we go in public like the soundtrack to an especially grim film. It even follows competent professionals, like Ms. Wylie, into our workplaces. It takes a sheltered perspective to insist it’s not sexist when it is so very obviously gendered.

Some illuminating statistics on street harassment; 64% of UK women have experienced sexual harassment in public, 35% sexual touching or groping. Those figures go up to 85% and 45% for young women under 25 and – most telling of all – it starts young, too, typically around puberty (2). Before girls are even women we are subjected to a barrage of comments, from the sleazy to the rudely insulting, telling us in no uncertain terms that now our bodies are the subject of public scrutiny. We learn early to alter our behaviour to deal with this. Travel in groups, carry keys between our fingers, wear headphones to block out the words. We expect it in the street and we expect it everywhere else. We learn a fixed smile lest we say the wrong thing. Talk shows wonder about the best way to reject unwanted advances in order to avoid being brutally beaten, while tabloids compare the Prime Minister’s legs to the First Minister’s and the Italian Prime Minister calls the German Chancellor an ”unf**kable lard arse”. They all exist in a continuum.

In this context, we cannot shrug off Councillor Craig’s comments about Ms. Wylie. He should absolutely apologise to Ms. Wylie, of course, but he should use this as a learning opportunity. The Lord Mayor asked that he think before he speak, and this is sound advice in life, but he ought also examine his thoughts while he’s at it, as should everyone who scoffs at this story. This kind of thinking is one of the most pervasive parts of the everyday sexism that seeps into all of our lives and thoughts, and the best way to challenge it is through education. Hollaback (3) and others are active in tackling the negative effects of this, and more can be done to work with young people round this too. Every year in Belfast activists from Belfast Feminist Network and Hollaback Belfast organise a Reclaim the Night (4) march to protest street harassment and assault. It goes largely unnoticed by the bulk of the media and by the City Council, now perhaps it is time for that to change.





Elaine Crory is a part-time Politics lecturer, director of Hollaback Belfast, and an activist with Belfast Feminist Network and Alliance for Choice. You can find her on twitter.

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  • Elaine

    And those are prosecutions, which are notoriously low in cases of rape due to the fact that it’s often tough to get enough evidence to secure a conviction.

  • Elaine

    Using the phrase “SJWs, as a pejorative, is really undermining your argument. Which actually needs all the help it can get. And are you suggesting that, not only has equality been achieved in NI where women do not even have full bodily autonomy, but *worldwide*? That’s further even than Milo goes. And please stop with the “genuine feminist”, she is no such thing and the arbiter of who is genuinely feminist or not is definitely not a man on the internet who thinks watching YouTube “debates” featuring Milo Yiannouopolis is the height of research.

  • Elaine
  • Elaine

    I hear different viewpoints all the time. And that is not what I said. I clearly said that the only people I hear gurning about “third wave feminists” are alt-right types who want to decry feminism but realise that if they say it was *always* bad, even when advocating for voting rights and to own property etc, they will seem too far right wing for some. I also did not call Hoff Summers a cretin, and basic reading will confirm that. I think calling her a “real” feminist is absolutely disingenuous and misleading. I encounter this stuff all the time. I know the script you are following. In the interest of research for a course I teach, I have watched hours of “debates” where your beloved Milo with names on YT like “Milo DESTROYS fat SJW with blue hair” and such. They are not debate, he is not an intellectual and I feel sorry for the legions who follow him. He is using you all for fame, and has even said that he would happily have a “liberal” world if he got to be famous.

    I recommend you watch the documentary Reggie Yates did for BBC 3 a while back. Milo is in it, if that helps.

    The gender pay gap is a completely different issue, perhaps I’ll write another piece on that some day. There’s one in the Bel Tel today actually but a local business leader, sorry, SJW.

  • Elaine

    “xyz is cancer” is absolutely not the way adults debate. Only someone who spends too much time in an online echo chamber (or wants to create shock and grab attention) would seriously defend its use. I have addressed the other points below.

  • Elaine

    Incidentally, one point made numerous times which you have consistently ignored is your claim that reported rates of street harassment *must* be false because 85% of the population is not “totally hot”. Several people, including myself, replied to say that we have experienced it despite not being “totally hot” necessarily, and so has every woman we know. Because it’s not about hotness, necessarily. Even though that was your argument, you have ignored us.

    Also your argument that this is all to create a narrative or victimhood would make some kind of sense if we had any kind of legislative agenda. But we don’t. Literally we are asking for people to keep their opinions of others’ appearance to themselves unless asked. Radical, eh?

  • Reader

    Granni, It’s Banter. Or over here we might say ‘joshing’. It can run over the spectrum from word-play to bonding to bullying, which is why context and atmosphere is crucially important.

  • Elaine

    Oh dear, your struggles with reading comprehension strike again, I did not say that you couldn’t express your opinion. I said you aren’t the arbiter of who is or is not a genuine feminist. Really, try a little harder.

    Also, are you familiar with our abortion laws? I’ll give you some time to find a position on this, I know your script is mainly US/GB focused.

  • Elaine

    I’m doing no such thing. And there is no such epidemic. Lay off the Breitbart news!

  • Elaine

    I can’t believe you only believe rape reports when the alleged rapists are brown immigrants.

    Oh who am I kidding, of course I can believe that. I’ve read your script, remember?

  • Gavin Smithson

    I still miss Benny Hill

    One of the many problems with leftwing libero/fascism is that it’s a form of fundamentalism but without the God

    It fails to recognise human nature.

  • DOUG

    No, it’s not.
    Personally, I’d be livid with the women too though.

  • Nevin

    Thanks, SR.